Wintersun has to be the most criminally overlooked band of 2004. This incredible band creates some of the most powerful, emotional and jaw-dropping metal in its history, mixing melodic death metal, black metal, thrash, and the signature Finnish power metal sound, with obviously Folk and Viking influences from lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Jari's old band, Ensiferum.After leaving such the highly-respected band Ensiferum in 2003, and announcing a new project, fans of Jari's were anxious to see what this man would do on his own this time around. So when Wintersun's self-titled debut dropped in 2004, fans were delighted to hear Finnish metal at its finest. This has to be one of my favorite CD's of all time, just because its just so damn powerful, Jari really has a gift for writing music, not to mention his impeccable guitar skills. The fact that he recorded everything minus the drums is also very impressive. This album is heavily layered with multiple guitar tracks, beautiful string arrangements, multiple and varied vocal tracks, and incredibly tight drumming courtesy of Rotten Sound's drummer, Kai Hahto. In describing Wintersun's sound, imagine taking Finland's most popular metal bands (i.e. Children of Bodom, Norther, etc) with their power metal and melodic metal influences, add some amazing raspy,black metal-esque vocals, awesome viking singing (instead of that cheesey power metal vocal style), super speedy drums and awesome rhythm guitars/solos, and more thrash and aggressive influences.
One thing that stands out about Wintersun, however, is Jari's ability to write catchy and memorable guitar leads. Each song has a specific theme that you can hum and remember long after hearing it. As most songrwriters know, that is not an easy task, but Jari is able to do it, not forgetting to add ripping technicality in there too so that you don't forget he is a musical genius. Wintersun brings the best of both worlds, both catchy and technical/brutal.As far as lyrical content goes, it seems to be a concept album of sorts. I havent really delved too much into it but it has to do with a wanderer traveling through mystical snow-filled lands and super natural forces apparently. It seems interesting, maybe one day I'll try to figure out what its about. I've never been a lyrics kind of guy though.
Now that you have an idea of what this band sounds like, lets go into a track-by-track analysis:
1. Beyond The Dark Sun This is the first song on the album, and also the shortest (the tracks get longer as the album progresses). It's a great opener, with its phased-guitar intro, its a slamming track through and through. Solid track and a great introduction to the band. But the best is yet to come. 4.5/5
2. Winter Madness This one starts out in a blast-beat frenzy with Jari's frantic rhythm guitar playing (some of the best rhythm playing i've ever heard). Then we go into the verse featuring what listener's will come to know as Jari's trademark guitar leads. Keyboards and multi-layerd guitar parts reign as Jari's tortured screams enter your ears to pummel them into oblivion. Also, Jari's singing first appears on this track, so you get a feel for his emotional vocal style. An epic chorus appears twice as the song progressive to the climax, which is the guitar solo section. This is one of the best parts on the entire album. Not only is Jari's INCREDIBLY clean sweeping/lightning fast guitar solo outstanding, what really makes this section stand out is the neo-classical chord progression being played underneath which allows everything to fit perfectly together and will (as it does to me) send shivers down your spine. It's sheer emotion. 5/5
3. Sleeping StarsThis track starts out with a string arrangement that is emotion-laden and will pop-up later on in the album. The whole song is slower than the previous two and has a more epic feel to it. Strings dominate this track and are complimented by Jari's powerful singing. I just love how this band uses power metal influences without the utterly cheesy and annoying 80's style vocals. I wish more bands would play music like this. 4.5/5
4. Battle Against Time Another fast song, it starts almost exactly like Winter Madness but with more technically-laden guitar riffing. Next you hear Jari's multi-layered choral vocals, and the song just continues in a huge tour de force of gripping metal. The solo in this song is not as good as Winter Madness's but its still a great solo nevertheless, probably better sounding, but its more of a show-off solo, complete with some blues-scale inspired runs as well. There is more singing in this track than Winter Madness so its a good mix of the last two tracks. 4/5.
5. Death and The Healing Again we have an epic and slower song with one of the most memorable and majestic guitar lead lines. A truly beautiful piece that proves Jari is able to write mind-numbingly fast and precice technical riffs and solos, but is able to bust out with great catchy melodic hooks as well. Great manly singing dominate this tracks amidst the choral string arrangements. Don't forget the great clean interlude in the middle of the song. Wonderful. 4.5/5
6. Starchild The best track on the album bar none. The song bursts with some fast trashing drums, and Jari's signature rhythm riffs complete with the memorable and folky lead. This song embodies everything that Wintersun is about, it has the epic passages and sections, the fast thrashing double bass drums, sublime vocals and string arrangements all over the place. A cool sidenote about this track is also that its split up into two parts. There are two distinct musical themes, the first being the rhythm/lead combination from the beginning all the way to the middle of the song where it begins to become more emotional and epic, the theme is altered and carries out through the rest of the song. There are no long guitar solos, but there are some awesome shorter ones buried in the mix of aural onslaught. My favorite part of this song has to be the singing though, its just so emotional and powerful, sending shivers down my spine much like the Winter Madness guitar solo. Amazing track. 6/5.
7. Beatutiful DeathThis track is a bit slower and mid paced, nevertheless we got great melodies and rhythm playing, plus some haunting vocals in the intro. Jari does not cease to impress with his wonderful composition style. Machine-gun double bass drumming carries the first couple of sections and eventually leads to an awesome thrashing section reminecent of Strapping Young Lad. The guitar on this song is insane and characteristic of Jari's neo-classical guitar style. Another awesome track. 4.5/5
8.Sadness and Hate The last song on the album also happens to be the longest (at over 10 minutes long) and another epic track in the vein of Death and The Healing, minus the guitar solos, which really would've helped this track. This is actually the reason its my least favorite song on the album but will sure to be the favorite of many listeners because of its catchy melodies. After the clean intro, the song bombards with a groovy melodic section and then come in the raspy screams. The song has a huge folky influence that is apparent. When we reach to the end, the listener is treated with the same theme from the intro to Sleeping Stars. A great string arrangement closes out a truly grand album. 4/5.
So if you are looking for a metal band that embodies the best of melodic death metal (Finnish Style), Power Metal, some black metal influences and a lot of Folk and Viking undertones, I highly recommend this band. You wont be dissapointed. A must for pretty much any metal enthusiast.